“But He Just Gets Me”: Three Responses to Pragmatic Arguments for Plagiarism (pt. 2)

sean-foster-jrazH5W7niA-unsplashYesterday, I responded to two pragmatic arguments that are being offered in defense of preaching the sermons of another pastor. Today, I’m adding a third response to the pragmatic defense of ‘borrowing’ sermons. 

3. The Spirit of holiness cannot bless lawbreaking

In the Ten Commandments, the final three are these (Exod. 20:15–17)

“You shall not steal.

 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s [sermon]; . . . anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Okay, “sermon” is not in the original, but sermons would fit under the category of “anything that is your neighbors.” Written by Spirit-led men who study the Scriptures, the sermon is a gift that pastors give to their congregations. In this way, a sermon should not be understood as “his own.” Possessiveness is never a healthy habit for pastors.

That being said, sermons are the intellectual property of the preacher, and should be treated as such. Thus, to preach someone else’s sermon breaks either the eighth, ninth, or tenth commandments, if not all of them. To see this, let’s consider each in order. Continue reading

“But He Just Gets Me”: Three Responses to Pragmatic Arguments for Plagiarism (pt. 1)

freestocks-I_pOqP6kCOI-unsplashWhat do you say to the person who laments that the former pastor of the church, the one who was disqualified from ministry because of his verbal and physical abuse, is no longer preaching? Never mind the fact that this preacher held the Bible with violent hands and sealed his unrepentance with a divorce, this woman argued the merits of his preaching and said, “But he just gets me.”

In such an instance, personal sentiments have far eclipsed biblical standards. Ignoring whether this man was objectively qualified to preach, this woman’s subjective interest was in having someone who made her feel a certain way. Such is the case in many churches today.

Rather than upholding pastors to the biblical standards of leadership, many church-goers are looking for someone with a certain gift of communication, inspiration, or entertainment. Today, TED Talks have replaced Timothy and Titus as the standard for good preaching. And communication skills have exceeded a commitment to character.

To that point, I once talked with an elder from a large church who argued for their multi-campus model on the basis of the senior pastors extraordinary giftedness in preaching. More specifically, he said if this man doesn’t preach people will leave the church. He continued, so instead of trying to have different campus pastors, we record his sermons and replay them in our various campuses. This is pragmatism at its finest.

Addressing the Pragmatism of Pulpit Plagiarism

Today, I’m not here to talk about the demerits of multi-site churches or what makes for good preaching. Instead, I want to address the pragmatism that funds those churches and invites church-goers to value charisma over character. More specifically, I want to address the practice of using another man’s sermon and preaching it for themselves.[1]

Already, I’ve addressed this subject in two blog posts—On Plagiarism and Preachers: Why Plagiarizing Sermons is Popular, But Biblically Indefensible; The Sermon Begins in *Your* Study: Why ‘Apt to Teach’ Means More Than ‘Apt to Speak’—but now I want to respond to three pragmatic arguments that were raised against my first post. Continue reading

The Sermon Begins in *Your* Study: Why ‘Apt to Teach’ Means More Than ‘Apt to Speak’

alexander-michl-g8PFVtzzkYA-unsplashFor Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord,
and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
— Ezra 7:10 —

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,
sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, . . .
— 1 Timothy 3:2 —

Earlier this week, I sat in a room full of pastors talking about preaching, plagiarism, and what it means to be “apt to teach,” the qualification for elders in 1 Timothy 3:2. And I made the point that being “apt to teach” and “apt to speak” are not the same thing. And I made the point because it seems as though there is a great confusion about what it takes to be a pastor today.

Can someone be a pastor if they are a good communicator? Or should someone be a pastor because they are biblically qualified? And what do the biblical qualifications entail, anyways? 

In some circles, being a good communicator seems to be the sine qua non of the pastoral office. If someone can communicate well, then they have what it takes to be a preacher. Never mind their other weaknesses, if they can communicate in a way that really connects, then they are a great cornerstone to building a vibrant church. (Please compare Ephesians 2:20 and note the irony!)

By contrast, Scripture gives a different and more complete picture. For instance, when defending his apostolic ministry, Paul testifies to his weakness in preaching. Addressing the super-apostles, whose speaking may have exceeded his own, Paul says of his critics, “For they say [of Paul], ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account’ (2 Cor. 10:10). Aware of his weakness(es), Paul defended his qualifications not by his charisma, but by his faithfulness to the truth and his suffering for that truth.

Today, such a perspective is under threat. For since the news broke concerning J.D. Greear and Ed Litton, I have heard much anecdotal testimony from various pastors that many large church leaders see themselves as communicators of the truth, more than shepherds of the flock or students of the Book. That’s my way of phrasing it, and it certainly doesn’t fit everyone. But with the popularity of groups like the Docent Research Group and Ministry Pass, as well as LifeWay’s large selection of manuscripts free for the taking, it seems that one reason why so little concern has been raised by Ed Litton’s use of J.D. Greear’s sermons is that pastors preaching the work of others is something of an evangelical cottage industry. (If I’m wrong, please show me).

For me, I’m not interested in doing the investigative reporting on this subject. I’ll leave that up to the Julie Roys and Warren Throckmorton’s of the evangelical world. What I am interested in is asking is this: Is it ever appropriate for a pastor to preach someone else’s sermon? Or, biblically speaking, is it a requisite qualification  to preach what one has learned from the personal study of his Word. Such a personal study of the Word,  where the minister of the Word encounters the God of the Word, is my personal conviction, and it was the conviction of all the pastors with whom I spoke this week.

But what does Scripture say? What does it mean to be “apt to teach”? And does teaching necessarily require the personal study of the Bible? Thankfully, Scripture is not silent about these questions, and by returning to the Pastoral Epistles we can find a solid answers to these questions.

Continue reading

On Plagiarism and Preachers: Why Plagiarizing Sermons is Popular, But Biblically Indefensible

nycholas-benaia-2wGjjX8Qb-g-unsplashIt seems, frankly, utterly unthinkable to me that authentic preaching would be the echo of another person’s encounter with God’s word rather than a trumpet blast of my own encounter with God’s word. Now to be sure, my sermon should be an echo. It should be an echo of the voice of God. But not an echo of an echo of the voice of God. So that is my conviction.
John Piper  —

When it comes to light that a pastor has been borrowing the work on another—what we might call plagiarism in the pulpit, sermon borrowing, retweeting, or any other euphemism for violating the seventh commandment—it is deeply troubling. But if that pastor has any influence on the life and ministry of other pastors, it is even worse, because it says to younger men, who are finding their way in the wilderness of pulpit ministry, that it is acceptable to use the work of others. 

To date, I can think of two pastors I knew personally who were fired for preaching someone else’s sermons. And I have heard many reports of the same. I can also think of many others whose ministries I have written off as unfaithful after learning that they were reheating the meals of others. And most recently, I have watched the unbelieving world make sport of God’s people because of plagiarism in the pulpit.

In recent days, it has come to light that the president of the SBC, Ed Litton, has been found retweeting sermon material from J.D. Greear. You can watch his expositions of Romans 1 and Romans 8, both of which demonstrate word-for-word dependence on Greear’s work. Both men have released statements explaining the matter (see here and here), but with 140+ sermons pulled from the Internet, more explanations are needed.

Without addressing the specifics of the Litton situation, I want to step back and ask the question: Is it wrong for a pastor to borrow material from another? What does it mean to plagiarize in the pulpit? Why is this such a common practice? And what does Scripture say?

To start with, I am not first to tackle this subject. Albert Mohler has discussed it, so have D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Justin Taylor and Andy Naselli (who lists many others). Letting Carson speak for the bunch, he expresses the severity of the problem.

Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately. The wickedness is along at least three axes: (1) You are stealing. (2) You are deceiving the people to whom you are preaching. (3) Perhaps worst, you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.

Carson’s words are severe. And they are matched by the severity of others listed above. Yet, the consensus of these evangelical leaders does not mean there is consensus on the issue. For on the trusty Internet, you will find James Merritt’s permission for plagiarism, websites selling pre-packaged sermons, and encouragement for pastors to partake in the practice of using the work of others.  Thus, in what follows, we need to answer three questions.

  1. What is Plagiarism? And does it apply to borrowing the work of another when permission is received and attribution given?
  2. Why is Plagiarism so prevalent today? Who is championing it?
  3. Is Plagiarism Biblically Defensible? (My answer: No, it is not!)

Answering these three questions, we can define our terms and evaluate from Scripture the practice of retweeting sermons. Continue reading

Live Not By Feelings: Three Ways to Love and Live the Moral Life (1 Peter 1:13–19)

image001To feel good or to be good. That is the question. And in Sunday’s sermon, I considered the difference between the moral life that God commands (and grants by the power of his grace) and the therapeutic life that our world gives us (with no lasting grace).

As countless cultural commentators have observed, there has been in our culture “the triumph of the therapeutic” (see Philip Rieff’s book by that title). And unfortunately, this way of thinking and living has shaped the church for the last two generations, a point David Wells makes in his book Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision. More recently, Carl Trueman has chronicled how this addiction self-oriented, inner-directed, immanent (not transcendent), feelings-obsessed way of living has consumed our world. And while understanding its origins takes time, seeing its effects does not. It’s everywhere.

And in Sunday’s sermon, I showed how 1 Peter 1:13–19 calls the followers of Christ to live by a different moral calculus and to throw off the idle and idolatrous ways of our fathers. In our case, that means rejecting a way of life controlled by our feelings.

Bought by the blood of Christ, Christians are to be holy as their Heavenly Father is holy. And this means rejecting a therapeutic worldview and the gospel of grievance that comes with it. And in its place we must learn afresh how to walk as children of God, clothed in his holiness, set apart for his glory, and satisfied with grace.

That’s what Sunday’s sermon sought argue from Peter’s first letter. You can watch that message here, or listen to it here. On these issues, a few other resources may be helpful. You can find them below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

From Initial Joy to Joy Everlasting:How Elect Exiles Suffer, Believe, Love, and Endure (1 Peter 1:6–9)

image001Are we going to make it? How are we going to make it? What will it take to make it? And what is ‘it,’ anyways?

If you were an elect exile living in Asia Minor during the first few decades of the church, you might ask these questions? Or, if you were a Protestant living in England during the reign of Bloody Mary, you might ask them too? Today, if you are a Christian living in China, or if you are Christian living anywhere that the cultural elites are pressing against biblical truth, or if you are confronted with an unknown, but serious, medical diagnosis, you might be asking this kind of question: How are we going to keep the faith and abide in joy, when the trials come?

Fortunately, Scripture is not silent on this issue. And in 1 Peter 1:6–9 we find a number of truths related to salvation, joy, faith, trials, and perseverance. Writing to a people whose faith was being tested and lives being threatened, Peter teaches us how we can have abiding joy in our salvation and hope of eternal glory. In Sunday’s sermon, we considered these truths, and you can listen to the sermon here. You can also watch the sermon or read a few related resources. 

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The New Birth: The Source of Our Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3–5)

image001

In a dying world we need a living hope. Thankfully, those who have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ have such a hope. As I preached on Sunday, this hope cannot be thwarted by death, neither ours nor those whom we love. In fact, when we are confronted and crushed by death, the life God gives us in Christ guards and actually enlarges our faith. As a result, outward circumstances cannot destroy the one who has been raised to life in Christ, such perilous conditions only prove the strength of God’s resurrection life.

With that truth in mind, let me encourage to find help and hope in 1 Peter 1:3–5. You can listen to the sermon or watch the sermon below. You will also find below a few helpful articles to encourage your faith.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

A Better Inheritance: Letting Israel’s Land Promises Inform Our Eternal Hopes

farm land during sunset

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy,
he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
— 1 Peter 1:3–4 —

Whenever I read or preach a passage of Scripture that includes a list or series of names, actions, vices, virtues, or any other kind of description, I am looking to see if there is an order or a concrete image that gives shape or cohesion to the list. Sometimes there is not, but often there is. And in the case of 1 Peter 1:4, where Peter speaks of the inheritance that is kept in heaven for those who have been raised to new life in Christ, we find a helpful word picture in Edmund Clowney’s commentary on this passage.

Drawing on a typological connection between Israel’s land and Christ’s new creation, Clowney compares two types of inheritance. He describes how the inheritance that Christians will receive from Jesus on the last day far exceeds the inheritance Israel received at the hands of Joshua. In this way, Clowney provides a faithful and fruitful description of what Christ holds for us in heaven—namely, a place in the kingdom that he will reveal on the last day. Indeed, this promise is glorious, but to fully appreciate what it means, we need to read 1 Peter 1:4 with what the Old Testament says about Israel’s inheritance.

This is what Clowney does, and it is worth our patient reflection, as he explains how “the words that Peter uses to describe our unchangeable inheritance all relate to the land that was the inheritance of Israel” (47). In keeping with the three words that Peter uses (imperishable, undefiled, and unfading), Clowney lists three comparisons. He writes Continue reading

Getting Into God’s Sovereign Grace: From Peter to the Elect Exiles to the Father, Son, and Spirit (1 Peter 1:1–2)

image001On Sunday, our church began a new series in the book of 1 Peter. Introducing the book, we focused on the salutation (1 Peter 1:1–2), two verses that introduce Peter, the elect exiles, and the triune God from whom all grace and peace come. From this short introduction we discovered a number of things about the book, its author, its setting, and the sovereign grace of God.

If you are unfamiliar with 1 Peter, it is well worth your time to study in 2021. Because, as those who are familiar with 1 Peter know, Peter’s message of living hope is tailor-made for Christians living in difficult times. For us living in a time of pan(dem)ic, political upheaval, and cultural breakdown, we need Peter’s strong words of encouragement. For the next five months, we will (as the Lord wills) focus on this encouraging book.

You can find the sermon audio. The video is below, along with these articles that might be of help after listening to the message.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Getting into 1 Peter: A Brief Introduction to this Grace-Filled Book

image001This Sunday we begin a new sermon series in the book of 1 Peter. And I want share three reasons, even four, for why we are looking at this letter and why this book is so timely. These three reasons come from the outline of the book itself, and will both introduce us to what we will find in Peter’s first letter and how its contents equip us as Christians to live in our day.

First, in a world of idols inviting us to identify ourselves with them, 1 Peter reminds us of who we are in Christ. In modern, psychological, and political parlance, 1 Peter 1:1–2:10 give us a rich pedigree for understanding our self-identity. As The Bible Project helpfully illustrates, these verses depend upon various Old Testament types and shadows. They apply things like the Passover, the Priesthood, and the Temple to new covenant believers. Indeed, just as Israel found their identity from all that God did for them in the Exodus, so Christians are to find their identity in all that Christ is and all that he has done for us. Jesus is our Passover lamb who makes us a living temple and a holy priesthood. These are rich truths, we need to understand who we are.

In a world that teaches us to make a name for ourselves or to find meaning in the brands we buy or the political movements we support, 1 Peter gives a better way of living. In particular, 1 Peter 1:3–2:10 expounds the meaning of “elect exiles” (1:1–2), as Peter teaches us to find our true identity in biblical terms and titles. In a world of identity politics, few chapters in the Bible are better equipped to remind us who we are, who God has called us to be, and what it means to be God’s elect exiles. This is the first reason we need 1 Peter. Continue reading